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Monday, April 6, 2009

Flying Blind

So this is going to be one of those random entries that jumps around a bit with no real theme - I've received a few e-mails from people wondering when (if ever) I'm going to update my blog. And now that I'm all caught up on reading breakdowns/scripts and watching air shows, I figured I'd check in and say howdy.

Like everybody else, I'm reeling from last week's Guiding Light news. As most know, Guiding Light and As the World Turns are "sister shows", and I spent many a post-Emmy party and Christmas party with the good folks from Guiding Light. I watched it faithfully from around 1990 on, and as far as I'm concerned Nancy Curlee... although only head writer for a few years... is one of the greatest head writers ever to grace daytime. Her work on that show inspired me to follow my dream and learn as much as I could about the human condition, so I could one day be a part of a team that wrote stories like she did on GL. Those were great years - Curlee on GL, Labine on GH, Bell on Y&R, Malone on OLTL. There was so much thought and effort placed on the emotional beats of a story, rather than the shock-and-awe treatment some soaps are using today. (Plane crashes! Car crashes! Hurricanes! Tornados! Serial killers! Explosions!) I'm deeply saddened by the news, and especially want to mention that I'm pulling for everyone behind the scenes who have invested so much in trying to keep Guiding Light on the air in spite of completely insurmountable odds. They have worked tirelessly to produce something under very difficult conditions, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for them. You have my undying love and support, and I wish nothing but amazing prospects in the future for all the denizens of Springfield, whether they're in front of the camera, or behind the scenes. Springfield has touched my life in more ways than I can count, and I'm so appreciative to have been even a small fraction-of-a-part of it, indirectly, through As the World Turns.

So now we're down to seven soaps, and it's terrifying out there. Everybody I spoke to at the various soaps last week were all affected in one way or another - losing another show means we're all looking our shoulders a little more than we were two weeks ago. The doomsday folks are counting down to the next canceled soap, but if anything, we should be looking to learn from the mistakes of Guiding Light.

How did it end up at the bottom of the ratings?

What caused so many viewers to lose faith in it?

Are those of us still working at other soaps guilty of falling into the same traps?

Can we prevent ourselves from making the same mistakes made over the last fifteen years at Guiding Light, from the highest network level, all the way down to the studio floor?

I worry that the fatalistic, defeatist attitude that has been hovering over soaps like a dark cloud will continue - a mentality of "We're fated to be canceled, so let's just get by until it happens." And it doesn't have to be that way. None of us have to go gently into that good night. Those of us working really need to ask ourselves some tough questions - doesn't matter if you're at the #1-rated show or the #7-rated show. What are we doing that's working - and what are we doing that isn't working? And how do we go about changing that?

I think a lot of us were flying blind last week, still trying to process what happened to our friends in Springfield. But now that acceptance is starting to sink in, it's time to figure out how we can find whatever sliver of a silver lining there is in this, and learn from our mistakes, so we're not doomed to repeat them.

And speaking of flying blind...

Many of you have e-mailed me to ask how things are at Young and the Restless, and I'd love to take this opportunity to say I couldn't be happier. The job is everything I could have hoped for, and more. But at the moment, there is an element of flying blind that I'm currently experiencing that I completely forgot about from my first cycles at previous jobs.

Here's how this works - most breakdowns are written anywhere from seven to eleven weeks ahead of their air date. So when I started at the beginning of February, my first episode would air April 20th (two weeks from today, for those keeping track). Now I've written eight shows - we are firmly ensconced in summer storylines, and in a much different place than the show is in currently on air (in terms of where we are in the stories).

Having not watched any scenes I've written so far on the air is a little strange. I've always said here in this blog that it's so important for writers to watch the show they're writing for. You have to be able to see structure and scene tags and commercial breaks that work... and those that don't, so (like I said earlier) you don't repeat the same mistakes. I wrote some pretty stunted episodes at Days and One Life to Live that taught me some very valuable lessons about how not to write a breakdown, once I saw how they turned out on the air. And I wouldn't have learned those lessons had I not seen the air show (and cringed appropriately).

I am anxious and petrified to see my first few air shows - not to satiate my ego, but to see how what I write translates to the Y&R episodes, and to see what I may not be doing right. I'm curious to see the feedback I get from the fans - about what they liked, but more important, what they didn't like. What seemed out of character, what didn't work for them, where improvement is needed. We may produce this show for the advertisers, but we write this show for the fans. And until that kind of give and take happens with my air shows (April 20th and beyond), it feels sort of like I'm flying blind (at least in terms of fan reaction. I'm well aware of reaction from the show and network, as I write from week-to-week, and that has been immeasurably helpful).

So for the next two weeks, as my nerves continue to be frayed until my first air show, I hope what I'm currently contributing to the process for the summer is strong and entertaining and moving and respectful of the audience. I just know that six months from now - having written for nine months, and watched six months worth of stories I participated in their creation - I will have a much better understanding of what my pros and cons are as a member of the Y&R team. But for now, I continue to work hard to do the best I can. And I wait...

And really, with the Guiding Light news, that's all any of us in the business can do right now. Work hard, go the extra mile, focus on making our product the best it can possibly be... and wait for the reaction.

And saying a little prayer never hurts either. :-)

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey Tom,

Thanks for the heads up. I will be sure to tune into Y&R in support of your radness. =)

I really know how you feel. Different jobs, but I am in the same position. I am returning to work and will be up in front of my audiences soon. Preparing can be so unnerving. "Ummm, will they like this joke? Am I insane for thinking they will even get this? Perhaps I am rambling a little too long here?"

I was so good at it before, one of the best in Hawaii. But it has been MONTHS! Approaching a year since I have been in front of an audience. What if I suck now? I need feedback, but I won't have it until it's already out there. (Bites nails)

Last year, what a bumpy road. All I can say is we made it. Are things perfect now? No. Both of our industries are in trouble...But damn it man, we made it!(I do believe this recession/depression will be good for soaps. Maybe all the people out of work will be tuning in now. As well as with less people being able to afford DVR's? They will now have to watch live, thus improving the ratings. Time will tell with that one.)

We rallied through: death, job loss, health issues, love, change, eating away at our savings, 401 K disappearing acts, and more.

And here we go working to rebuild, seeking to find that "mojo", and reestablishing ourselves as part of something great.

Best of luck to you Tom. I know that no matter what? You will do your best to produce something great.

All the Best,
Shaka

Tess Mallory said...

Hey Tom! Great to hear you are alive and well ! :)) Can't wait to see your debut show on April 20th! I am so happy for you!! Big hugs!

Tess

John said...

Congratulations, Tom! Y&R is not my show, but I will check it out on the 20th. After GL, especially, I think all talented, creative folks who are doing their part to keep this genre going because they genuinely love it should be rewarded. There don't seem to be enough of you left working in the industry. (Even if I'd selfishly prefer it if you had stayed unemployed and still had lots of time to share us all kinds of fascinating backstage details about the process and history of writing these shows! j/k)

Anonymous said...

did you read the interview SON did with Nancy Curlee?

Anonymous said...

Ok I watch the show.
Great dialogue between Ashley and Jack.

Big oversight that Karen was told that Tyra could NOT adopt Ana, and suddenly she can! Make me angry at the writers! They should address their own crapola!

Cane and Jill dialogue, not too bad except:
Cane: Hopefully, like a man of principal. Seriously and he said it without throwing up, that is why they are paid a lot.

Jil/Jack/Ashley dialogue
Hilarious and great!

Billie/Chloe dialogue
Over the baby, just awful, Billie loves his little girl but he does not even like Chloe. For me time wasted

Ana/Tyra scene
Awful. They both cannot act out of a paper bag. Not your fault!

Upset at Devon and his lack of reaction to Neil’s betrayal to Karen.
Upset at Lily defending her father, seriously she has no spine, no woman would not be angry at the way Neil treated Karen, it was despicable.
Tyra: (Sighs) Look, you did not see the look on Karen's face, Devon. God knows that she's not my favorite person, but I don't wish this on anyone.
Seriously, she cheated with her husband and she says that! Seriously!

Chloe/Cane meeting
Did not like it at all, Cane was grinning so much, he looked like he wan the lottery instead of letting go of the custody. Just a cheesy ending, to a boring storyline.

Chloe/Cane /Lily/Billie
At the end, I was waiting for the 4 of them to start signing cumbaya around Cordelia’s stroller!

Karen/Neil apartment
I loved Karen cutting disgusting Neil to shred, man she was good, and the dialogue were great.

I hate Tyra the mistress going back to Karen’s apartment, seriously? But I hate her anyway; see above comment about paper bag, not your fault.

Shannon said...

Great Job Tom! If I hadn't read a Y&R message board I would not have know that this was your debut episode. You seem to have a really good feel for the show. I especially liked the snappy dialogue between Jack/Jill/Ashley and Jack with Adam. I am looking forward to some more of your work!

"Seen It All" on SoapCentral said...

Ran across the reference to your blog at Soap Central. How cool to find out just before I watched the episode. (Sorry, it was DVR'd.) It was like when we met the parents of a rookie debuting for the the other side while standing in line to get into a Cubs game. How fun. I watched with new eyes. I don't fancy myself a seasoned critic. But I will say I LOVED the dialogue with Jack and Ashley especially. Loved Chloe's "name" speech. I HATE to see lovely Nia leave. She is SOOOOO good. Sad. Bad decision, not yours I presume. Anyway, back to your experience as a writer. I can't imagine how one could step in from the outside and cover sooo much territory in one episode. IMHO you did an amazing job!

P.S. How am I going to know which episodes are yours in the future?

Anonymous said...

Hello Tom,

Your writing is fine. The dialogue fit the characters.

Adam is my favorite character. I would like him to be redeemed. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I have a question, since we were told that Tyra could NOT adopt Ana and this is why the Winters did it.

Why Suddenly could she?

Is is the HW decision, or the script writer?

Who is responsible for that lack of continuity? Do they know how viewers hate that laziness?

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yrlover said...

I enjoyed your article Tom and try to never miss yr even when I'm upset with storylines.

yrfan said...

I loved your work on Y&R and wish you the best with your new job.